2007 climaxed the greatest American tale since The Civil War, and Britney Spears’ Blackout was our living soundtrack. Just as Spears was our brown-eyed girl of misfortune, Blackout is the requiem of our American Dream.
Britney was an ideal created in our own image. Our image, our perception of our self worth, in the past decade was dependent upon fame and projected status. Then, more than ever, our identities were aligned with iconographies: Britney was our Miss American Dream, and in 2007 we saw her strip away her white gown.
At our darkest hour, our brightest supernova wanted nothing more than to go that extra mile for us. We created a monster mistress, a pop iconography reflecting our wildest and greatest desires – embodying our most visceral conquests. She was the broken kingdom, and on behalf of her mortal peers she sacrificed herself for our entertainment. She was our gladiator and our samurai on a kamikaze mission to kill the very same system which produced her. Even with her back against the wall she was our central focus, how something so perfect could be so not – and how such reckless power could destroy our most divine wind. We watched her spiral through insanity, as cameras flashed her dancing deliriously to music only she could hear. Even though we led her to this position of mania, she gave us permission to send her on a suicide mission: before the flashing lights, she was to touch the sky and nosedive in a sacrificial spectacle fit for a fallen empire. She gave more when she had nothing to give, because we asked for it – because the same guys who told us that she was the most valuable dream, told her that her value relied on our affirmation; she Merrill Lynched our Pop selves. Her punishment was her penance, and as much hers as it is ours. The opening is the standing reminder that even after she fades, the irremovable, unstoppable, perpetuating danja remains.
As Miss American Dream since she was seventeen sheared away her golden locks, and replaced them with amber weaves of shame, she shaved away at every false ideal to which she was bound, of which she was a product, and for which she was the face and first lady – on the ruins of America the beautiful stood the blind shepherd and sacrificial lamb. “Piece of Me” reads like a day in the life of the New American Dream, in all of its vapidly vainglorious misery. We still want a piece of the American pie, and the perpetuating contradictions which sit at the core of Blackout make themselves clear and present here. She and we are in a continuous ebb and flow: the voyeur and the exhibitionist as she watches us watching her, the celebrity and the everybody as she is photographed in grocery store tabloids for reading grocery store tabloids, the villain and the perceived victim as we watch her fame burst in flames for our amusement, as she shares headline space with General Petraeus, as our news became entertainment. The contradiction resonating most deeply though is the crazy-sane dichotomy as we scratch our heads and rewind the lyric:
I’m Miss ‘Most likely to get on the TV for strippin’ on the streets’ when getting the groceries, no, for real… Are you kidding me? No wonder there’s panic in this industry: I mean please…
That – in a nutshell, and not-so-many-memes – was 2007 in 200 characters or less: overvalued projected icons and self-created false ideals leading to industry panic over actual institutional failure… no, for real, are you kidding me?
“Break the Ice” came in like the fourth horseman on this apocalyptic album. Britney’s swag is undeniable and chilling in its dead-on accuracy in the midst of sheer delusion. “Welcome back,” “Gimme More” said it, but here it was reiterated – Susie Highschool is back from college: knock knock – it’s Britney, Bxxch.
I know it’s been awhile but I’m glad you came, and I been thinkin’ ’bout how you say my name. Got my body spinnin’ like a hurricane, it’s like you got me goin’ insane – and I can’t get enough, so let me get it up.
– really, America: this is what you created. This is what it sounds like when Miss American Teen lost herself in pursuit of our affirmation, and followed a false pipe dream. It reads like a manic monologue from a then-it-was-cute-now-I-see-it’s-codependency high school crush you left before college. Through all the babies and boys, Britney was always singing to “you” on her albums, that ever-elusive abstract someone. As her life became her art, and the studio was as much her stage as the sidewalk was, that fourth wall between she and the audience disintegrated. We were now a part of her life as much as she was a part of our daily routine – coffee, cereal, (insert medium of choice here): Britney story. She’s been watching us watching her, and as much as we needed the entertainment and escapism, she needed the reality of being needed by anyone, even as a pedestal.
So, Britney is America’s prom date: the one we courted through senior year and capstoned with a consummation, and thus the inherited commitment. She’s the one we had a long-distance relationship with during college. She’s the one we had in the pocket and said we would get back together with after graduation; until we found someone new in college – a really fresh hipster chick. So, we broke it off with her over the phone and after four years she’s back – and mature, and a bit manic in the why-won’t-you-love-me?! way:
Ooh, looks like we’re alone now, you ain’t gotta be scared we’re grown now. I’m a hit defrost on you, let’s get it blazin’. We can turn the heat up if you wanna, turn the lights down low if you wanna. Just wanna move you, but you’re frozen.
If nothing else, Blackout is proof that we’re all black when the lights go out – she was the death of auto-tune donning all black everything. Before Lindsay was on her rap sxxt, Britney was Weezy, Jeezy, and Yeezy all in one: from Baby, I’m a freak and I don’t really give a dxxn. I’m crazy as a motherfxxker: bet that on ya man, to, Yo, tonight I’m bout to mash, make them other chicks so mad; I’m bout to I shake my axx, snatch that boy so fast… make them other bxxches mad, she was so sincere and so hood – she was the ludicrously-fueled baddest bxxch. This is Taylor Swift at the O-Zone Awards, as much as it is Lindsay and Clipse on a Complex Magazine mixtape. On one hand it’s Chopped and Screwed Barbie, but on the other it’s Pop locking the Block – Britney did that. She was in the booth with a baby bottle of formula in one hand, and a bottle of syrup in the other. She was riding in six-figure cars with babies on her lap. She was assaulting paparazzi vehicles with umbrellas… she bought her dancer-turned-rapper-if-you-want-to-call-him-either husband a record label within six months of their not-really marriage, two kids and a divorce later: she’s so hood. Her tone was so naturally swaggadocious – and that was the scary part. She rode through lyrics like she was a former Mouseketeer and this was her Disney World: owned it – in all of its dubious worth. She was Sara Goldfarb, she had her red dress, and delusion alone fueled her fame:
I want it more than ever now, I realized that they ain’t listenin’ – like a princess supposed to get it – that’s why I’m dustin’ off my fitted. Coming back looking delicious – yes I know they wanna kiss it; now I hold them at attention: ’cause new Britney’s on a mission…
That was the reality of Britney 2007, in a nutshell: when Britney looked in a mirror that is what she saw… “delicious;” think about the Britney you saw in 2007: that is all.
This album’s most significant staple is its heavy panoramic urban/electronic sound. Blackout was danjerous – period. The messages, the memes, the mania, and mockery are all well and good; but structurally and technically this album was Britney’s best work to date. Track-by-track for every layer she shed lyrically from the fore, exposing the genuine hysteria within her mind and the American mindset, so it seems another vocal layer, bassline, or synthesized effect was added to the back. The precision given to each track’s production was even more impressive given that this was Britney’s first album where she held Executive Producer credits. It is no small coincidence that at her most raw, and least handled, state she spearheads her best and most genuine work.
Britney is no intellect, and so the lyrics represent our perception of her. Her writers – Nate Hills, Keri Hilson, T-Pain, Jim Beanz, etc. – were our voices in the back of her head of what she should be and the story she will tell to us, for us, on her behalf. Britney is, however, an extremely visceral musician whose truest self is expressed in the beats – and how you feel when you hear the music. Where …Baby One More Time was like saccharin, Blackout is like Meth mixed with Syrup. Danja, as the lead copilot on the Amerikanakaze musical mission, set the stage for an ominously Pop battle cry for Spears’ own Californian rolling Blackout. His plan? Get naked – strip down to the most innate sounds and vibes to create a mental atmosphere reflective of Britney’s own psychotic psyche. The complexity of the beats is hidden in the crafting, Danja is Britney’s McQueen – he was able to tap into her creative core and expound on the layers beneath her shallow facade.
Where Gaga is a thinker and a writer, highlighting complex vocal layers and wordplay over simple beats; Britney is the parallel, she has insanely complex beats that go hard beneath monotone vocals and simple lyrics. Britney is “the animal,” she doesn’t think before she acts, and because of that it’s about the experience and what you feel when you hear her music. Here we feel distorted, sedated, disoriented, stratospheric, amplified, schizophrenic, grounded, dark, ephemeral, paranoid, calm, powerful, chaotic, animalistic, heavy, primitive, elemental. Danja’s tracks open from a place of uncertainty, but an acceptance at whatever is to come. Everything builds: the bass drop’s density, the synth pitches, the hi-hat tisk, the snare pops, but more importantly: Danja’s slurred, suggestive coercions. He plays the role of the uberproducer in the back of Britney’s head on any and every given night… the easy escape: I gotta plan, we can do it just what you want it, baby, baby… As long as you want it, come with me, we can do it baby… the open hand: I understand that you don’t got no man, and I just want to take your hand. And I want you to understand, that, that I, I got everything perfect. When I take one, and get it all inside… it’s every voice – and yet only one: hers; at the end of the day she is her own vise and vice.
The voice sounds like everything and nothing, fading in and out like the instrumentals below, but because that lone voice mimics the beat, it becomes equally significant. The accent becomes the anchor, the mime becomes the master, the product becomes the producer, and the facade becomes the foundation. Structurally, Danja’s voice is more fundamental to the tracks than Britney’s vocals – this figment of self-concept is more powerful than the self itself. The actively perpetuated juxtapostions within the album are so comprehensive, it is uncanny; and it is the master product of Britney at her most core self – when she was too irrational to worry about reputation, too vulnerable to care about vanity, and too spun to care about spin. The anthem of all anthems, the apocalyptic capstone: “Hot As Ice”
In the midst of her most crazy, Spears gave her sonic state of the union in the coolest of tones – and she was so sincere. Britney Spears Betsy Rossed us and weaved an American tale as an individual talking to any American, and as the iconography talking to her makers. She recaps how we got here: I’m just a girl with the ability to drive a man crazy – but it feels alright – make him call me mama, make him my new baby – just one more time. As she nonchalantly reminds us of her past glories, she uncomfortably implies that our intellect is as contagious as her insanity – and we were the company she kept in the closest quarters. She deliberately reinforces her influence and impact, that even after she’s blacked out, it was because she was a supernova first: New and improved, I’m saying thank you very much: living legend – you can look but don’t touch. Spears, the modern performance poet, begins her kamikaze descent on Americana by channeling – and apparently cheapening by perceived association – Robert Frost: Cold as fire, baby hot as ice; if you’ve ever been to heaven, this is twice as nice… a far cry from – but an era-appropriate SparkNotes summized version of
Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire, I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate to say that for destruction ice is also great and would suffice.
What she begins doing here, is what she has been accused of doing all along: ruining American culture (as the creature we created, no less), unravelling the fibers that keep this flag, this brand, this image of America together. Pop and politics ride tandem though, just as the Pop empress derobed, the political powers-that-be deregulated and deconstructed the very real institutions which keep this country together – for all the world to see: cannibal Amerikanakaze. Frost melted, American Literature: down; knowledge is power when there’s no child left behind. Britney: on to the next one – “Break it down, break it down.”
She lays down what it is as we are: This ain’t no foolishness or fxxkery, I’m handling my business. Holler if you hear me; can I get a witness? Call it what you want, but call it: the business of America is business, and Britney is America: we created her to be our brand ambassador, she’s our business – our Enron. In America: Capitalism is patriotic, and the almighty dollar is divine: she’s preaching from experience. Preacher, preacher: I’m the teacher, you can learn. Watch your fingers, boy: you might get burned, the not-a-girl-not-quite-a-virgin-mother has a message: take a seat, because celebrity became the new deity – watch me do me: Hell in a handbasket.
She’s still cold as fire, baby hot as ice. If you’ve ever been to heaven, this is twice as nice: break it down, with Frost’s apocalyptic picture as the American stage. Heaven is good, but Hell is twice as nice – if only for the company; good is fine, but greed is great: gimme more. As you denounced entertainment as frivolous and fickle, as you pointed to the New York Times cover – Battlefield Burma on one side and Battlefield Blacksburg on the other – so you devoured the gossip and spectacle, so you pored endlessly over the Kodak-snapped casualties from Battlefield Hollywood – and General Britney Jean. Traditional media credibility, substantial content: break it down; blurred lines between news and entertainment: vamp it up.
Spears looks back before looking down, and reminds us that for all the tears and all the lies, you never had more fun with anyone else in your life
As you can see, fortunately, I’m cold as fire. Yeah, make you believe; make you stop and breathe – I’ll take you higher. I’m just too cool – make it do what it do: I’m hot as ice now. Make you feel like heaven – twenty four, seven: I’m twice as nice now.
Fortunately she’s the sacrifice and salvation; fortunately, her life is our entertainment. She was our ideal, and our escape. She wore a snake on her neck, she made “Toxic,” she was a Mouseketeer; she was universally cool – within some capacity. She was the American Dream, the crux of divinity and humanity – she was the impossible embodied – until the beautiful balance revealed itself as a megalomaniacal delusion. Whether better or worse, she is both the fantasy and reality, as for the fourth wall between the two: break it down.
As the album comes to a close, the descent is as spectacular as the entire ride prior – but in an appropriately understated way. Pharrell, the Slave’s creator, returned to close the casket, once and for all, for a muse martyred and a dream deferred. Williams, the pre-Danja voice of rhythm in Britney’s head, crafted her foray into the known real world. While he overtly conveyed her need for liberation, he subtly cautioned the world to be gentle with their princess:
I know I may come off quiet, may come off shy, but I feel like talking, feel like dancing when I see this guy. What’s practical, what’s logical, what the hell who cares? All I know is I’m so happy when you’re dancing there.
In spite of everyone before her – Marilyn, Diana, Jon Benet – she just wants to dance with you, baby, one more time. In spite of common sense and logic, she feels happiest when she’s entertaining a public who is most entertained when watching their demigoddess-du-jour’s demise – the bigger, the better.
The man who scribed Britney’s servitude to the American public, returned to ghostwrite her farewell address. Six years after the little girl stepped into the club and became a slave for you, she reminisces and perhaps first grasps the reality of the mediated matrimony…
They couldn’t believe I did it, but I was so committed. My life was so restricted for you. I just dove inside it blind, couldn’t see what swam inside; thought that’d be romantic for you… Exchanged my vows, and said it all: Woman, let’s prepare to fall
… the immediate descent. Kevin was as much the issue as any voyeuring American, the life provided for Kevin was the ideal that this life could be had by anyone – if Kevin “Want fries with that fifth child?” Federline could live this out of control, lavish homes and fancy cars, even got the drop Ferrari, by doing nothing, so can I! I can have the American Dream by association, all success with no sweat – that doesn’t make sense – but sign me up! What other American Dreams could we get by association, and no sweat? Houses, loans, military superiority, global technocracy, this bubble is indestructible – like the Titanic! As she sent him to Vegas, with a pocket full of paper, and with no ultimatums on you. I thought ‘what could separate us?’ but it just seemed that Vegas only brought the player outta you, we watched, and envied; as she fed him delusions of grandeur, she fed our obsession with that same false fame. Why should she be sad?
Our shame is her secret, as much as she will hide the rock bottom from her sons, so we will erase this blackout from our record; as to shield future generations from the trainwreck that was our once greatest triumph, and don’t you worry about our angels – they’ll get good guidance, and be trained well – don’t worry I’ll keep a little secret when I ask this question: why should I be sad? This, her first executive production – her bastardized baby – so happened to be her first album not to debut at number one, as the RIAA aborted her hopes of a comeback. They passed the, commonly called, “Fxxk Britney” Clause which allowed albums sold to exclusive distributors/retailers to chart with widely distributed albums. It was passed a week early to take effect when Blackout debuted. As such, The Eagles album – solely distributed at Wal-Mart – propelled to number one at the last minute as Britney took the backseat. Wal-Mart diffused the kamikaze, in a fitting finale to America’s cultural cannibalistic tale.
Britney’s darkest moment will remain her secret, a formal blemish on her career, and a non-factor on the industry’s – as two is not a winner, and three nobody remembers – however the cultural impact is undeniable. The disregard for Blackout as a snapshot of American society on the brink of beautiful collapse is the only portrayal more accurate than the one it denies, because of that innate delusion. While we will no doubt forget the nuances of this spectacular demise, the devil is in the details – and that’s why the danja is still unstoppable, and Blackout remains: unforgettable.
Personified amalgam of 1987, Baltimore, Atlanta, DC, Manhattan, London, Los Angeles and American pop culture. Language artist within a capacity, drummer by passion, Pop savant by preordination, Media Master by dictate of scholastic artisans and scientists, and culture scribe by necessity. I freelance life.